The Maldives Police Service was accused in 54 out of 56 cases of torture submitted to the human rights watchdog between July 2014 and June 2015, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has revealed in its second annual anti-torture report.
The commission completed investigations into 37 cases and sent four cases for prosecution, the report stated, but the prosecutor general’s office declined to prosecute any of the cases due to insufficient evidence.
Even in cases where signs of abuse were visible on the victim’s body, the commission noted difficulties in identifying the perpetrator from among the police officers on duty at the time of the incident. The report noted that the perpetrator must be identified for prosecution.
The HRCM determined that there were no acts of torture in 33 cases.
The 54 cases alleging torture by the police included 13 cases of physical abuse during arrest, 26 cases of custodial abuse, 15 cases of physical abuse during protests, and one case of physical abuse during transfer to court for a remand hearing.
The anti-torture law passed in December 2013 compels the commission to investigate allegations of torture and prepare an annual report before the end of July.
Only one case was submitted during the review period alleging torture by a Maldives Correctional Service (MCS) officer in a prison or detention facility.
The government-run Majeedhiyya School was also accused in one case dating back to 2002, involving physical abuse of a student during a cadet exercise.
In 10 cases of alleged torture by police officers, the report noted that the victims were below 18 years of age, whilst the victim was above 65 years of age in one case of physical abuse during a protest.
Several cases alleging police brutality and custodial abuse were lodged with the commission in the wake of a mass anti-government protest on May 1.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party alleged at the time that police officers tortured and threatened to kill suspects arrested on charges of assaulting a Specialist Operations (SO) officer during the May Day protest.
The commission listed several challenges it faced in investigating allegations of torture within the three-month period mandated by the law, including difficulties in gathering conclusive evidence.
In most cases, the HRCM noted, the only evidence is the statement from the complainant, while the accused denies the allegations.
The anti-torture law does not specify evidentiary standards for cases of torture, the commission observed, while the three-month period set by the law poses difficulties in completing cases.
The commission also noted the lack of funds and resources to travel to islands to conduct investigations as well as non-cooperation from complainants after release from police custody.
In some cases, the commission also faced difficulties in identifying and locating eyewitnesses due to incomplete information submitted by complainants.